Last Saturday, Vice President of the Republic of Malawi and leader of UTM party Dr. Saulos Chilima rattled Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) members when he said he helped them win the 2014 general elections in which he ran together with Professor Peter Mutharika. Chilima was working as a Managing Director of Airtel Malawi before quitting early 2014 to join politics after Peter Mutharika chose him as his running mate.
After having huge differences on how the country is being managed, Chilima and many other former DPP members founded the United Transformation Movement which has just been registered as UTM party.
Despite Chilima thanking Peter Mutharika many times for choosing him as his running mate, DPP members say Chilima is not grateful and should always thank Mutharika and DPP for giving him an opportunity to be Vice President. DPP members talk like being a running mate is just an election legal requirement and does not contribute anything to political strategy. This is far from the truth.
A running mate by definition is a person running together with another person on a joint ticket during an election. Running mates may be chosen, by custom or by law, to balance the ticket geographically, ideologically or in terms of personality. The main objective is to create a more widespread appeal for the ticket. Presidential candidates usually chose someone who they believe will assist them and their parties to appeal to a larger base of people.
Malawi law requires presidential candidates to have a running mate. Presidential candidates are free to choose anyone from their party or outside the party. The running mate name and that of the presidential candidate are written on the ballot paper. The only difference is that the presidential candidate’s face is also on the ballot paper. According to law, the President is elected together with the Vice President.
In Malawi, where many people vote on regional or tribal lines, presidential candidates usually try to choose a running mate from a different region from their own. This is done to amass votes from their region and that of the running mate.
DPP lost power in 2012 due to the death, in office, of President Bingu Wa Mutharika, two years before the end of his second term. At that time, DPP was at it’s lowest point in terms of popularity since it’s formation. The then Vice President, Joyce Banda, and her newly formed People’s Party took over power and instantly fell out of favor with Malawians because of the infamous Cashgate financial scandal. Joyce Banda sealed her fate with her choice of a mediocre running mate who was a laughing stock.
Malawians had to look back to DPP and Malawi Congress Party (MCP) for salvation. MCP had new leadership from the world outside mainstream politics. DPP’s Mutharika, a proven failure in different portfolios that he was given by his older brother Bingu, would have to compete with Lazarous Chakwera, who presented a totally new beginning to MCP and a new face in Malawian politics, albeit with just church leadership experience.
DPP was desperate for a new face and someone from the central region to help the party win elections. They searched within the party and found nobody. They needed someone young enough to appeal to the youth vote, yet accomplished enough to convince voters. They found none within the party. They looked for someone within the party who had no skeletons in the closet and found none that possessed the other qualities . They had to look outside the party and settled for a brilliant and highly successful young man in the corporate world. That man was Saulos Chilima.
Mutharika took a lot of time to think about his running mate because he had to be careful to select a person who would help him win. Such was the care taken that he convinced Chilima to be his running mate just three months before the election. Many people were surprised how Saulos Chilima could leave his comfortable job to join politics on an opposition party ticket. They believed he was just fine with his job as the top boss for Airtel Malawi. That was true and it took four visits by DPP gurus to his office to persuade him to leave his job and be Mutharika’s running mate.
Whoever helped Mutharika make the decision to find a running mate outside the party and outside the existing politicians saw that the party could not win with a team comprised of old timers. If the running mate position was not important for DPP to win as some DPP members and apologists want us to believe, they could have just selected anybody within the party to be Mutharika’s running mate. They could have chosen Ben Phiri, Nicholas Dausi, Goodall Gondwe or any of the blue painted cadets as running mate and still win.
Chilima presented a fresh start. Unveiling Chilima, an accomplished economist, businessman and manager at a press briefing in Blantyre after presenting his nomination papers at Comesa hall, Mutharika said, “my running mate is a successful career man with huge experience in running business affairs as evidenced by the way he has turned around business at Airtel Malawi. It is that track record that has convinced me to appoint him as a running mate.”
Chilima vigorously campaigned with Peter Mutharika. They criss-crossed the country convincing all possible voters to vote for DPP. Surely, the voters did not only hear Mutharika’s voice. They also heard Chilima’s voice. It’s obvious that this team working together convinced the millions of voters that voted for DPP. It’s also obvious that the strategy to chose a running mate with Chilima’s qualities worked for DPP. Without a running mate like Chilima, Mutharika would not have won.
Those who point at similar voting patterns to previous elections as reason for DPP to say Chilima did not help them win elections are just deluded. Similar voting patterns do not mean same people voting for the same party for the same reasons. One might have voted for DPP in 2009 because of liking something about Bingu Wa Mutharika but voted for DPP in 2014 because of another reason, like Saulos Chilima’s track record and brilliance.
After using Chilima to get votes in 2014, DPP should not change the tune now that Chilima is leading UTM, a party that has completely changed the political landscape. DPP and it’s paid apologists can only fool themselves as Malawians embrace Chilima and UTM, the only hope for meaningful change in Malawi. Just like Chilima helped to sell Mutharika and DPP, he with the whole UTM membership are promoting the UTM brand like never seen before. Everyday, the talk is about Chilima and UTM. Chilima helped DPP win and now he is going to help UTM win.